1. DIFFERENT IDEAS
a. What idea did certain men from Judea promote among the Christians—and why did this cause dissension? Acts 15:1; Titus 1:10, 11.
“There were those in Paul’s day who were constantly dwelling upon circumcision, and they could bring plenty of proof from the Bible to show its obligation on the Jews; but this teaching was of no consequence at this time; for Christ had died upon Calvary’s cross, and circumcision in the flesh could not be of any further value.
“The typical service and the ceremonies connected with it were abolished at the cross. The great antitypical Lamb of God had become an offering for guilty man, and the shadow ceased in the substance. Paul was seeking to bring the minds of men to the great truth for the time; but these who claimed to be followers of Jesus were wholly absorbed in teaching the tradition of the Jews, and the obligation of circumcision.”—The SDA Bible Commentary [E. G. White Comments], vol. 6, p. 1061.
“With great assurance these Judaizing teachers asserted that in order to be saved, one must be circumcised and must keep the entire ceremonial law.”—The Acts of the Apostles, pp. 188, 189.
2. A NEED TO EXPAND THE UNDERSTANDING
a. To ensure harmony with regard to circumcision and the ceremonial law that had pointed to Christ’s first advent as the Lamb of God, what was needed? 1 Corinthians 1:10; Acts 15:2.
b. What news were the disciples from Antioch able to bring? Acts 15:3, 4.
“Upon arriving at Jerusalem, the delegates from Antioch related before the assembly of the churches the success that had attended the ministry with them, and the confusion that had resulted from the fact that certain converted Pharisees declared that the Gentile converts must be circumcised and keep the law of Moses in order to be saved.”—Sketches From the Life of Paul, p. 64.
c. Even after hearing the update of fulfilled prophecy in Gentile conversions, what did some of the believing Pharisees still insist—and why? Acts 15:5.
“The Jewish converts generally were not inclined to move as rapidly as the providence of God opened the way. From the result of the apostles’ labors among the Gentiles it was evident that the converts among the latter people would far exceed the Jewish converts in number. The Jews feared that if the restrictions and ceremonies of their law were not made obligatory upon the Gentiles as a condition of church fellowship, the national peculiarities of the Jews, which had hitherto kept them distinct from all other people, would finally disappear from among those who received the gospel message.”—The Acts of the Apostles, p. 189.
“The Jews had prided themselves upon their divinely appointed services; and they concluded that as God once specified the Hebrew manner of worship, it was impossible that He should ever authorize a change in any of its specifications. They decided that Christianity must connect itself with the Jewish laws and ceremonies. They were slow to discern to the end of that which had been abolished by the death of Christ, and to perceive that all their sacrificial offerings had but prefigured the death of the Son of God, in which type had met its antitype rendering valueless the divinely appointed ceremonies and sacrifices of the Jewish religion.”—Sketches From the Life of Paul, pp. 64, 65.
3. THE STRUGGLE FOR UNITY
a. What did the delegation of Christians do about their disagreement—and why is this important for all of us? Romans 15:5, 6; Acts 15:6.
“The Lord has given us in His word definite, unmistakable instructions, by obedience to which we may preserve union and harmony in the church. Brethren and sisters, are you giving heed to these inspired injunctions? Are you Bible readers and doers of the word? Are you striving to fulfill the prayer of Christ that His followers might be one?”—Testimonies for the Church, vol. 5, p. 248.
b. What could Peter, Barnabas, and Paul all testify about the evidence of the Holy Spirit’s working among the Gentiles? Acts 15:7–12.
“Every soul saved in the former dispensation was saved by Christ as verily as we are saved by Him today.”—The SDA Bible Commentary [E. G. White Comments], vol. 6, p. 1061.
c. Name one factor that posed a legitimate challenge to achieving full harmony between Jew and Gentile converts. Romans 14:19–21.
“The Gentiles were accustomed to eat the flesh of animals that had been strangled; while the Jews had been divinely instructed with regard to the food they should use. They were particular, in killing beasts, that the blood should flow from the body, else it was not regarded as healthful meat. God had given these injunctions to the Jews for the purpose of preserving their health and strength. The Jews considered it sinful to use blood as an article of diet. They considered that the blood was the life; and that the shedding of blood was in consequence of sin.
“The Gentiles, on the contrary, practiced catching the blood which flowed from the victim of sacrifice, and drinking it, or using it in the preparation of their food. The Jews could not change the customs which they had so long observed, and which they had adopted under the special direction of God. Therefore, as things then stood, if Jew and Gentile came to eat at the same table, the former would be shocked and outraged by the habits and manners of the latter.”—Sketches From the Life of Paul, pp. 65, 66.
4. COMING TO AN AGREEMENT
a. Besides the idea of blood as food, what other Gentile habits caused reasonable concern to the Jewish converts? 1 Corinthians 8:9–13; 6:18.
“Many of the Gentile converts were living among ignorant and superstitious people who made frequent sacrifices and offerings to idols. The priests of this heathen worship carried on an extensive merchandise with the offerings brought to them, and the Jews feared that the Gentile converts would bring Christianity into disrepute by purchasing that which had been offered to idols, thereby sanctioning, in some measure, idolatrous customs. . . .
“The Gentiles, and especially the Greeks, were extremely licentious, and there was danger that some, unconverted in heart, would make a profession of faith without renouncing their evil practices. The Jewish Christians could not tolerate the immorality that was not even regarded as criminal by the heathen.”—The Acts of the Apostles, pp. 191, 192.
“We are living in an age of licentiousness, and men and youth are bold in sin. Unless our youth are sacredly guarded, unless they are fortified with firm principles, unless greater care is manifested in choosing their associates and the literature which feeds the mind, they will be exposed to a society whose morals are as corrupt as were the morals of the inhabitants of Sodom.”—Messages to Young People, p. 85.
“All fornicators will be outside the City of God.”—Testimonies to Ministers and Gospel Workers, p. 431.
b. What balanced decision did James recommend? Acts 15:13, 19, 20.
“James, in this instance, seems to have been chosen to decide the matter which was brought before the council. It was his sentence that the ceremonial law, and especially the ordinance of circumcision, be not in any wise urged upon the Gentiles, or even recommended to them. James sought to impress the fact upon his brethren that the Gentiles, in turning to God from idolatry, made a great change in their faith; and that much caution should be used not to trouble their minds with perplexing and doubtful questions, lest they be discouraged in following Christ.
“The Gentiles, however, were to take no course which should materially conflict with the views of their Jewish brethren. . . . They were required to keep the commandments, and to lead holy lives.”—Sketches From the Life of Paul, p. 69.
5. UNITED IN THE PRESENT TRUTH
a. What resolution was approved by the delegation of Christian believers? Acts 15:22, 23, 28–31.
b. What should we realize, seeing there were some still dissatisfied with the final verdict concerning the ceremonial rites already fulfilled in the sacrifice of Christ? Galatians 6:12–15; 5:6.
“The entire body of Christians was not called to vote upon the question. The ‘apostles and elders,’ men of influence and judgment, framed and issued the decree, which was thereupon generally accepted by the Christian churches. Not all, however, were pleased with the decision; there was a faction of ambitious and self-confident brethren who disagreed with it. These men assumed to engage in the work on their own responsibility. They indulged in much murmuring and faultfinding, proposing new plans and seeking to pull down the work of the men whom God had ordained to teach the gospel message. From the first the church has had such obstacles to meet and ever will have till the close of time.”—The Acts of the Apostles, pp. 196, 197.
“The ceremonial law, given by God through Moses, with its sacrifices and ordinances, was to be binding upon the Hebrews until type met antitype in the death of Christ as the Lamb of God to take away the sin of the world. Then all the sacrificial offerings and services were to be abolished.”—The Review and Herald, September 27, 1881.
“To continue these rites [of the ceremonial law] would be an insult to Jehovah.”—The SDA Bible Commentary [E. G. White Comments], vol. 5, p. 1140.
PERSONAL REVIEW QUESTIONS
1. What unnecessary yoke did some early Christians try to require of all?
2. In what ways might I be in danger of fostering a Pharisaical attitude?
3. Why was it helpful for the apostles and elders to come together to talk?
4. Fornication is prevalent today, but what must the church say about it?
5. Why should I not be surprised at dissenters existing today?